Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Solutions helps Suzanne transform her work

by Andrea Nesby and Amy Clark

Suzanne (second from right) is joined with
 NACEDA staffers at the Solutions 2016 convening 
As a communications director at the National Alliance of Community Economic Development Associations (NACEDA), Suzanne Gunther is responsible for the whole spectrum of communications work: event promotion, media relations, brand management and more. NACEDA is an alliance of 45 state and regional community development associations in 28 states and D.C.

On top of all that, Suzanne’s role includes helping the communications staff of NACEDA member associations keep up to date with the latest communications best practices. She organizes training opportunities and recommends resources and trainings by experts in the field.

When Suzanne learned about NHC’s Solutions for Housing Communications convening, she knew it would be the place to see great examples from other housing communicators and connect with her peers in the field. In just two days, she could learn, network and bring back fresh examples and information she could use all year long. She registered herself and recommended the convening to communications staffers at community development associations around the country. Seven communications professionals from the NACEDA network attended.

Suzanne started her Solutions for Housing Communications 2016 experience in New York City with the mobile workshop touring supportive housing developments in the Bronx.

“The tour reminded me why I do this work,” she says. “I was truly inspired by the local stories.”

She says the marketing and public relations workshop taught her new approaches for framing messages, and provided her with real-life examples of how to use communications techniques like pivoting.  

Solutions for Housing Communications gave Suzanne the opportunity to connect with people she would have otherwise never met, gave her new communications approaches she and her members could use and inspired her to keep up the hard work of housing communications.

If you’re looking for two days of inspiration and practical advice, then #Solutions2017 is where you want to be! 

Friday, March 17, 2017

Digging deep into who struggles to afford housing in your region

by Janet Viveiros

Most Americans know that there are serious gaps between what housing costs and what people can afford in many communities across the country. Many know this first hand from their struggles to make their rent or mortgage payment each month, others know it secondhand from watching friends and families struggle and others simply hear the periodic news stories about how housing costs in New York City or San Francisco have reached new highs.

Despite a general and widespread acknowledgement that affordable housing challenges exist for some, most policymakers and members of the public are not aware of how dramatic the gaps are between what people earn and what they’re able to afford, particularly outside of high-cost regions. NHC’s recent webinar,“Paycheck to Paycheck: More than Housing,” explored these housing affordability gaps. Few people think about low-cost Midwestern metro areas like Gary, Indiana, or Detroit, Michigan, as being places where workers face serious housing affordability challenges, yet for many, they are.

The webinar also shared these key findings from NHC’s recent supplement to the data tool, More than Housing:”
  • Housing costs comprise a significantly higher percentage of income for lower-income households compared to higher-income households.
  • Low-income renters spend relatively more of their income on housing than low-income homeowners.
  •  Both renters and owners are more likely to encounter major housing affordability challenges in and around major cities along the East and West Coasts.

As discussed during the webinar, the housing affordability picture changes when you look at typical earnings and housing costs in the context of other household costs. Many working households are not able to make ends meet when you add up all their expenses.  For example, a Colorado family of four with a combined monthly income of $4,749 could fall short of paying for necessary household expenses by $1,032 each month.

The Paycheck to Paycheck data tool and the “More than Housing” supplement are important tools to help policy makers and the public visualize how incomes often fall well short of what households need in order to afford their rent or mortgage, along with food, transportation, health care and more. I hope this knowledge can spur more thinking about the role communities should play in ensuring there is affordable housing for workers across a spectrum of incomes.   

Thursday, March 16, 2017

NHC's statement to media on Trump Administration's proposed housing cuts

Earlier this morning, NHC sent the following statement below to the media regarding President Trump's FY 2018 budget proposal. Given the threats this budget poses, housers must come together as an interconnected and interdependent housing and community development continuum to make a compelling case for housing funding. Please join us for our March 30 Budget Forum webinar to discuss advocacy and communications strategies to help us connect with lawmakers from both parties.

Today the Trump administration released a budget proposal for FY 2018 that includes a $6.2 billion cut to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The proposal would also cut additional housing and community development funds from the Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Treasury. If enacted by Congress, these cuts would devastate the housing and community development efforts that are building new infrastructure, revitalizing neighborhoods, spurring economic development and ensuring access to safe, decent affordable homes for millions of Americans.

"President Trump's budget for HUD would severely limit the ability of state and local governments to meet their communities' housing and infrastructure needs," said Chris Estes, president and CEO of the National Housing Conference, a nonpartisan affordable housing advocacy organization. "The president's proposed budget sacrifices the security of older adults and people with disabilities, and will actually make it harder for President Trump to bring opportunity to urban and rural America as promised."

The proposal from the Trump administration includes elimination of aid to communities large and small through the HOME Investment Partnerships and Community Development Block Grants (CDBG); painful limitations on public housing and rental assistance despite rising need;  elimination of capacity-building programs for nonprofits doing affordable housing and community development; elimination of the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund which supports community development and affordable housing lending; elimination of regional initiatives to address rural poverty; elimination of homeownership help beyond FHA lending; cuts to staffing in USDA Rural Development offices that support rural housing; and many other cuts.

HUD and USDA assistance provide access to affordable homes in urban, rural and suburban communities and are a key part of the solution to the shortage of affordable rental homes currently experienced in communities across America. Essential workers are often shut out of the rental and homeownership markets in the communities where they work. For example, NHC research finds that school bus drivers are unable to afford to rent or own a home in any of 210 metropolitan areas in the U.S. The tradeoff for many Americans is long, stressful commutes, substandard housing or difficult choices between paying the rent and paying for other essentials like medical care.

"Programs like rental assistance and CDBG are about more than just development. Living in an affordable, healthy home directly affects the ability of children to succeed in school and the health of older adults and people with disabilities," said Estes."Access to quality stable homes is a key component of reducing health care costs, especially in Medicare and Medicaid. We look forward to joining our colleagues in housing and community development to work with members of Congress to ensure the final HUD and Agriculture budgets better meet the needs of our communities."

The budget release is short on detail, leaving most of the work in Congress' hands to put together a FY 2018 budget that meets the pressing needs of people and communities in America.


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Lifeline program continues to offer opportunities to housing providers under new FCC leadership

by Rebekah King, National Housing Conference

The announcement by Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai on changing the status of nine newly designated Lifeline Broadband Providers (LBP) last month raised concerns among many who are focused on increasing broadband access, including NHC.  Our understanding after meeting with the FCC is that expansion of broadband and opportunities for housing providers remain, although the new FCC chairman has signaled some revisiting of specific aspects of the Lifeline program, including designation of LBPs. NHC continues to see the Lifeline program as a significant opportunity to get more affordable housing residents connected.

Since 2014, the National Housing Conference has encouraged expansion of broadband in affordable housing to close the digital divide for low-income families. One tool in this effort is the FCC’s Lifeline program. In 2016, the FCC changed the program to allow the Lifeline subsidy to be used for broadband service in addition to phone service. For housing providers, these changes created an opportunity to aggregate Lifeline subsidy among many residents to create a funding source for property-level broadband.

In addition to allowing the Lifeline subsidy to be used for broadband, the Lifeline Modernization Order also created a way for new internet service providers to participate in Lifeline as Lifeline Broadband Providers (LBPs). On February 3, 2017, FCC Chairman Pai revoked the status of nine new LBPs because of concerns about the legality of the LBP status. NHC reached out with our concerns about the future of the Lifeline program, and last week we met with Chairman Pai’s staff.

At the meeting, we learned that Chairman Pai wants to work on closing the digital divide. We determined that housing providers should still pursue broadband solutions using Lifeline, and we discovered that providers can still pursue becoming an Eligible Telecommunications Carrier at the state level. Under the modernization order, aggregation projects are possible wherein nonprofits or housing providers can negotiate with internet service providers (ISPs) to do the program qualification and sign-up paperwork for a fee. This financial support could enable housing providers to pursue broadband solutions at the property level as explore local partnerships around digital literacy and equipment. The Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) is exploring how the aggregation process could work. NHC is engaged with USAC and hopes to share ideas from NHC members about how to best structure this option. Additionally, for housing providers interested in serving as their own ISP, organizations can still apply for eligibility to participate in Lifeline through their state public utility commissions, while the LBP status is being reconsidered.

NHC hopes housing providers will fully explore how they can best utilize the Lifeline program to benefit their residents. We are a resource and can provide guidance. To learn more about NHC’s Connectivity Working Group and work on broadband in affordable housing, please email me

Innovation in ballot campaigns and rental development at NHC’s Restoring Neighborhoods Task Force

by Rebekah King, National Housing Conference

Every month, NHC brings speakers to our Restoring Neighborhoods Task Force who discuss innovative strategies to empower comprehensive community development. I’m always excited to learn about what practitioners are exploring on the ground, and March brought two opportunities. Michael Bodaken, president of the National Housing Trust (NHT), shared information on their High Opportunity Pilot, where NHT is taking a market-oriented approach to give voucher holders access to high-opportunity neighborhoods. And Rhode Island Housing and the United Way of Rhode Island shared their success in a state ballot measure to create a $50 million state bond for affordable housing. Both initiatives required thinking about and messaging about affordable housing differently in order to make progress.

NHT’s High Opportunity Pilot acquires market-rate multifamily housing. The goal is to create a mixed-income community by opening up a portion of the market-rate units to Housing Choice Voucher holders over time, as opposed to trying to construct an affordable housing development in a high-opportunity neighborhood. This approach focuses on conversion of existing privately owned market-rate housing stock. On the surface, this may sound rather simple. However, this model requires partnership with public housing authorities, as well as with nonprofits who can help counsel voucher holders and certify their eligibility. It also requires access to equity and conventional financing that can be deployed quickly, and the ability to compete in a fast moving process. The affordable housing development process is not a quick one, so this model requires a different kind of engagement in the market.

Rhode Island Housing and the United Way of Rhode Island led an effort in 2016 to pass a statewide ballot measure that would create a $50 million state bond for affordable housing. The “Yes on 7” campaign focused its messaging on “housing opportunity,” a term that advocates felt did not invoke a negative frame among the public. The campaign also focused on highlighting beneficiaries of development; not just residents but also employers and businesses. The campaign took a strategic approach, recognizing the value of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, as well as the importance of events like groundbreakings to build public support and engage community partners.

In an uncertain federal environment, seeing examples of new strategies being used to fund and market affordable housing confirms how housers can continue to be successful on the state and local level. Join us April 27-28 in Minneapolis for Solutions for Housing Communications to see many similar examples of successful approaches to building support for housing at the state and local level.

You can view both presentations from the March 2017 Restoring Neighborhoods Task Force meeting here. If you’re interested in learning more about the task force, please email me.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

A message from Chris Estes on the budget outlook for housing

By now, many of you will have seen the leaked budget documents referencing a potential $6 billion cut to HUD. Such a cut would be devastating to housing and community development efforts: elimination of HOME and CDBG, deep cuts to public housing and rental assistance, and near elimination of now-smaller programs like housing for the elderly and people with disabilities.

What this means right now: The leaked documents are not a formal statement from the administration, so President Trump's budget proposal could be different when it arrives. This is also a negotiating process between the White House and Congress on top-line budget numbers and program priorities. Major budget changes like these will require deal making both within and between the two political parties and the House and Senate.

All signals thus far, however, suggest President Trump's budget will propose major cuts to non-defense domestic spending, including housing. We don't know if this year may be similar to past years in that Congress will set the budget timeline and decide funding levels with little reference to the president's proposal or if Congressional leaders give the president more deference in his first proposed budget. We do know that the baseline spending levels Congress is starting with under the sequester and the Budget Control Act also require cuts to spending.

What you should do: Prepare for ongoing, coordinated advocacy for housing and community development. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Most important is to advocate for housing and community development funding overall, rather than defending particular programs in isolation. If legislators hear from each housing advocate, "Cut some other housing program to pay for mine," or, "This program or group is more vital than others," they will know that housing as a field lacks organization, will be fragmented in its defense and is ripe for cuts.

Our strength lies in unity.

Watch the Washington Wire from us for more news and opportunities to advocate.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

NHC’s Gala honorees are moving housing forward

by Chris Estes, National Housing Conference

I hope you’ll join NHC for our 45th Annual Housing Visionary Award Gala and 2017 Annual Policy Symposium on June 8 and 9 in Washington, D.C.!

The Housing Visionary Awards Gala honors great examples of collaborative, comprehensive community development work. This year NHC is proud to honor Habitat for Humanity International and Rebuilding Together.

Both organizations are well-known for the mobilization of thousands of volunteers to build and repair homes for low-income households. They continue to innovate beyond their founding models and have evolved in initiatives that improve outcomes and maximize the community development impacts of their work.

Habitat has moved away from single green field developments to more infill partnerships with other housing and community development efforts. Their builds often are part of larger development strategies that include Low Income Housing Tax Credit developments, rehab and repair of existing homes with partners like Rebuilding Together, and school and small business development with partners utilizing the New Markets Tax Credit.

Similarly, Rebuilding Together has progressed from their all-volunteer “Christmas in July” home repair origins to using sophisticated evaluation of air quality, energy efficiency and overall healthy home metrics to drive their work. Rebuilding Together also partners with groups like Habitat, community development organizations like NeighborWorks® America and for-profit developers doing new single-family and multifamily development in the same neighborhood.

At the Gala, we’ll also honor former HUD secretary Shaun Donovan, and Rep. Pat Tiberi of Ohio's 12th District for his long support for affordable housing.

Rep. Tiberi has been a tireless champion of the Low Income Housing Tax Credit and New Markets Tax Credit programs, the nation’s most productive public-private affordable housing and economic development partnerships. Former Sec. Donovan led HUD through the nation’s most severe housing crisis and made important new advancements in combating homelessness and the redevelopment of public housing through the RAD program.

I hope you’ll join me at this important gathering to honor these great organizations and policy leaders, and attend our Annual Policy Symposium the next day. Visit our website for more information on how to purchase tickets and tables, become a sponsor or register for the PolicySymposium.

NHC member places youth at the affordable housing forefront

photo by: HACM/Paul Williams
by Andrea Nesby, National Housing Conference

NHC member Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee (HACM)’s YouthBuild program aims to help teens and young adults develop building skills while rehabilitating homes for low-income or homeless families. Through this program, participants are developing construction skills to create a path for employment and giving back to their community.

YouthBuild USA, Inc., a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, first formed the program in 1990. Today, the program is sub-contracted to multiple agencies nationwide, including HACM, to provide job training and educational opportunities for at-risk youth ages 16-24. The U.S. Department of Labor is now a primary funder. 

Since its launch in 2015, participants have successfully completed rehabilitation of one home for a family. Starting out, participants built two dog houses to develop their professional roofing, framing and siding skills. When it comes to personal development, participants express gaining a sense of pride in their work, with one participant saying, “We want to make sure everything’s nice and neat when the new family moves in.” A total of 20 participants have completed HACM’s YouthBuild program, and recruitment for the 2017 cohort is currently under way.

Milwaukee’s YouthBuild program is one example of how a community can be innovative in adopting solutions to neighborhood restoration. NHC’s Restoring Neighborhoods Task Force (RNTF) convenes members from communities nationwide to develop solutions to restore neighborhoods that are still struggling to recover from underinvestment and neglect. We encourage representatives from communities, who are engaged in programs like YouthBuild, to join RNTF. If you are interested in learning more, please contact Kaitlyn Snyder at ksnyder@nhc.org

Friday, March 3, 2017

Flood insurance offers opportunities for positive housing policy

by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference

Affordable housing stakeholders should pay attention to flood insurance, because it offers one of the few areas for imminent, positive policy change. Lawmakers are planning to start soon on reauthorizing the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Reauthorization offers a chance to improve the program in ways that get people out of harm's way while directing help with costs to those in need. NHC along with our partners in the SmarterSafer Coalition briefed Senate staff last week, and we will keep focus on the flood insurance issue.

In the last two major NFIP reauthorizations, affordability has been at the center of the policy debate, but without much input from the affordable housing community. Both the 2012 Biggert-Waters law and the 2014 Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act struggled with the tradeoff between 1) making flood insurance rates reflect real risk and 2) raising the cost of flood insurance, which can be required for a mortgage. Affordability loomed large in feedback legislators received from constituents, whether they were homeowners on the margin for whom any increased cost could be unaffordable or wealthier homeowners surprised and upset by the prospect of much higher than anticipated insurance bills.

The NFIP expires in September, and Congress is preparing to act. Chairman Hensarling of the House Financial Services Committee has said reforming NFIP will be a major focus this year. Senators on the Banking Committee are also looking at the issue and invited SmarterSafer to brief them last week. Flood insurance is a rare area that offers possibility for bipartisan action with direct benefit to people nationwide.

So what needs to change in NFIP? The cost of flood insurance should send true signals about risk; it doesn't now. Indeed, the program effectively subsidizes homes at high risk. We need to improve the mapping of risk, create more private options for better insurance coverage and encourage homeowners and communities to mitigate the risks they face. These are essential changes for a program nearly $24 billion in the hole.

Affordability help is key to this change. They only way these program changes can happen is if we ensure that no one is displaced because of the cost of flood insurance and that homeowners and communities get the help they need to mitigate risk. The SmarterSafer proposal sketches out ways to help, including means-tested assistance for homeowners that can convert to up-front mitigation help that is implemented through private loans. We also propose community-level mitigation help using natural features to buffer against hazards whenever possible.

We're still a long way from NFIP reauthorization, but with the right efforts from the affordable housing community, we may very well see real, positive change this year.

It’s time to get serious about aging in place

by Janet Viveiros, National Housing Conference

As my affordable housing colleagues work toward achieving positive outcomes when it comes to the  future of affordable housing, and as talk swirls around the nation around potential changes or replacement of the Affordable Care Act, often referred to as “Obamacare,” I think about older adults. Many of them have intertwined housing and health needs, as both their incomes and health will decline with age. Now, more than ever, is the time to seriously engage in developing strategies to increase the amount of housing that is affordable, accessible and that meets the diverse safety and service needs of the rapidly growing number of older adults.

As reports from NHC and other organizations like Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies have shown, the affordable and accessible housing needs of the growing older adult population are far from met. By 2030, 132 million Americans will be 65 or older. Many of these older adults will pay more than what is affordable on rent, mortgage, property taxes or utilities. Furthermore, many may be at great risk of injury through falls and other mobility related challenges and many may not be able to complete basic daily activities without some help. Currently, there is just not enough housing available to meet the varied needs of these older adults. 

As the country grapples with these issues, it is important to remember that not only do most older adults want to age in their home or their community instead of in a nursing home, it is also much less costly. At our December How Housing Matters Conference, Catherine Anderson, vice president of state programs at UnitedHealthcare Community & State, explained that managed care organizations estimate that providing health services to older adults at home amounts to approximately a third of the cost of caring for them in a nursing home. The combination of significant savings and the strong preference for aging at home means that we must scale up and build upon existing efforts to help older adults age in place. This fits squarely at the intersection of housing and health, since the housing needs of older adults are affected in great part by their health.

I recently discussed with Justin Worland of TIME Magazine how the unsettled questions currently surrounding the future of healthcare and housing in America means we are not addressing the needs of older adults. As the country thinks about the future of both housing and health, we must also consider how to better coordinate work at the intersection of housing and health to better meet the needs of all Americans, and in particular, the complex and diverse needs of older adults.

Opening a path to meaningful dialogue

by Andrea Nesby, National Housing Conference

When it comes to bringing affordable housing options to a community, fear of the unknown can be the biggest catalyst of opposition. That is why proactively educating a community on affordable housing is crucial. NHC previously conducted an informal survey of our Restoring Neighborhoods Working Group members to better understand the types of community opposition they face, and a majority of respondents indicated the most commonly encountered opposition centered on who the residents will be.

This made me think about the severe opposition my former employer faced when opening a housing program for homeless veterans in a wealthy area. Residents had concerns about potential impacts on their property values, crime and safety. When the organization held open houses for community members to tour their other housing programs, it illuminated for me how important face-to-face interaction is to changing community members’ perceptions. When one single mom, who escaped an abusive relationship, welcomed community members into her home, she was eagerly trying to make sure everything was in its place, since her unit was in the process of being renovated. The visitors assured her everything looked fine. She joked about how it would all be messy again anyway when her two kids returned from school, and one community member laughed and said, “I can definitely relate.” This brief interaction demonstrated how few differences there are between people and humanized the housing program participants for community members.

In a 2015 report, NHC outlined seven effective strategies for countering community opposition. The report makes clear that face-to-face interaction is key. Two of the strategies touched on understanding the community’s values and addressing them and inviting community members to the discussion before decisions are made. Holding community meetings and open houses can provide an opportunity to do just this.

Part of the planning process often includes inviting community members to a public meeting to discuss the projected plan. This is where we as housers can address concerns and educate the community about why affordable housing is important and to whom. Consider coming prepared with a story or inviting a resident, who is already housed in one of your programs, to share their story. This can help put a face to the housing development and can help community members feel connected with future residents. After the planning process has passed and you’ve broken ground, an open house can provide the opportunity to share how the community’s input and needs have been incorporated into the design or program structure. For example, if a community expressed concerns about safety, you can discuss plans for residents to participate in a Community Watch program and point out security features in the development.

Practicing these strategies will prove how face-to-face interaction can go a long way, but of course it won’t always be a walk in the park. This is why we hold our Solutions for Housing Communications convening to help you think of creative solutions, so you can advance your work.  

We hope you will join us for this year’s convening on April 27-28 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where we will discuss best practices for countering community opposition and tour local examples of housing developments who are innovating in their approach to countering community opposition.

If you have a strategy you’ve put in action and learned from, please comment below!